Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition
Help us Prevent Coal Mines Upstream of a Birmingham Water Source
Black Warrior Riverkeeper filed a Petition on September 10, 2012 with the Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) to designate areas adjacent to the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Mulberry Fork drinking water intake as lands unsuitable for coal mining. The petition opens another front in Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s ongoing fight to stop coal mining upstream of the public water intake facility that supplies water daily to around 200,000 Birmingham-area residents. The petition seeks to designate 58,544 acres of land adjacent to the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River in Walker County just northwest of Birmingham, where drinking water is pumped out of the river, as off limits to coal mining.
LUM Petition & Exhibits
On January 31, BWRk made its public case to designate the lands around the BWWB’s drinking water intake as unsuitable for mining by filing these detailed comments.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper has asked the ASMC to designate the area highlighted in red as off-limits to surface coal mining. Map created by John Kinney with data from: http://www.surface-mining.state.al.us/page3.html To view map online,click here.
Description of the LUM Petition Process:
In the LUM petition process, there is no burden of proof. The process is intended to be legislative in nature and emphasizes fact finding. This is a real difference (and advantage) over the adversarial permit appeal system, which artificially assigns burdens of proof that can sometimes skew outcomes.
Instead, the ASMC is charged with making a factual finding as to whether the lands at issue are “suitable” for mining or whether mining here could endanger a public resource, which is used for recreation, fishing, swimming, and drinking water. Differing from the administrative permitting process, the LUM process affords the ASMC an opportunity to think prospectively about whether it is appropriate to mine in certain areas or whether, because of sound scientific evidence, mining should be “off limits” in certain sensitive places.
Unfortunately, in past permitting decisions the Alabama Surface Mining Commission and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management have indicated that they think it is okay to allow surface coal mining adjacent to and upstream of this drinking water supply. They contend that wastewater discharges from the mine will not negatively impact streams, wetlands, the river, aquatic life, fishing, swimming, source water, or tap water.
This is our opportunity to set the record straight and give them enough information to make the right decision.
Background information about our LUM Petition:
Black Warrior Riverkeeper filed the Petition on September 10, 2012 with the Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) to designate areas adjacent to the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Mulberry Fork drinking water intake as lands unsuitable for coal mining. The petition opens another front in Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s ongoing fight to stop coal mining upstream of the public water intake facility that supplies water daily to around 200,000 Birmingham-area residents.
According to Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke, the goal of the petition is to protect an important resource: clean, safe and affordable drinking water. “Protecting the source of our drinking water, the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River, is the most cost and resource effective way to provide clean drinking water now and in the future. It makes absolutely no sense for the state to issue permits to pollute the source of our drinking water, so that drinking water customers can then pay to clean up a polluter’s mess.”
Staff attorney Eva Dillard explains, “The Birmingham region has invested substantially in the Mulberry Fork intake and we want to preserve and protect that investment. We believe that the drinking water supplied by the Mulberry Fork represents a unique, site-specific resource. Continuing to permit surface coal mining operations near the Mulberry Fork puts that investment, not to mention the public heath, at risk.”
Areas that affect renewable resource lands where coal mining could result in a substantial loss or reduction of long-range productivity of water supply are eligible for designation as lands unsuitable for mining. Renewable resource lands are defined as geographic areas, like the Mulberry Fork and surrounding lands, which contribute significantly to the long-range productivity of water supply.
Previously, Riverkeeper has focused on raising public awareness about the proposed Shepherd Bend and Reed Minerals No. 5 mines, both of which would discharge upstream of the Mulberry Fork intake. In reference to both mine proposals, the Birmingham Water Works Board has publicly commented, “We are concerned that this proposed mine has the potential to adversely impact the Birmingham area drinking water.” The University of Alabama System Trustees have not yet decided whether they will lease or sell the System’s significant property for the Shepherd Bend Mine.
The LUM Petition represents an additional, comprehensive strategy to protect drinking water beyond the threat of individual mines; the ultimate goal is to make a preventive determination of where coal mining can safely occur and not harm the Mulberry Fork public drinking water supply. Coal mining is known to contribute heavy metals (including iron, manganese arsenic and lead), sediment, and other pollutants to drinking water sources, which leads to greater demands on treatment operations as well as increased treatment costs. Added filtration costs are typically passed on to Birmingham Water Works Board drinking water customers.
Pictures, maps, and information about the proposed Reed Minerals No. 5 Mine
Pictures, maps, and information about the proposed Shepherd Bend Mine
Birmingham Water Works Board’s Source Water Assessment Program: Mulberry Fork
Birmingham Water Works Board’s Intervention and Petition to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/31/2012):
Birmingham Water Works Board’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/31/2013):
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve’s Conservation Land Manager’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013)
Samford Biologist Dr. Betsy Dobbins’ Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013)
NewFields Engineer Warner Golden’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013)
Wastewater/Water Treatment Operations Manager Kevin Begin’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013):
UA Chemistry Professor Shane Street’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013)
UA Biology Professor Art Benke’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/29/2013)
Tennessee Aquarium Biologist Dr. Bernard Kuhajda’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/22/2013)
UAB Biology Professor Rob Angus’ Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/20/2013):
UAB Environmental Health Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. Julia Gohlke’s Public Comments to the ASMC regarding Lands Unsuitable for Mining (1/12/2013):